Jesus proclaimed the kingdom of God. He announced the good news, and the gospel accounts speak about his coming to demonstrate the kingdom of God by acts and by calling together a band of faithful followers, but then they move on to the last seven days of his life which move towards Calvary and to the sacrifice that he made, so the gospel accounts record Jesus as proclaiming the kingdom in both word and deed, the word being the announcement of the kingdom, and that his deeds actually being the ushering in of the kingdom through his saving death on the cross.
When we open the Gospels and begin to read them there’s one thing that may surprise us but is inevitably going to strike us and that is that what Jesus was preaching and teaching about and modelling was clearly the kingdom of God. There’s no doubt from John the Baptist’s preaching, which foreshadows Jesus to the very first words of Jesus — the kingdom of God is drawn near, or has drawn near, or the kingdom of heaven has drawn near — and then in all his teaching, “blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” all the parables about the kingdom of heaven, all the teaching, all the ways in which he shows himself to be the true Davidic king riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. All the manifest ways to make it very clear that the Gospels, the evangelists, the gospel writers, want us to clearly understand that Jesus’ message, his whole life, was about the bringing, the restoration, of God’s reign or God’s kingdom.
The idea that Jesus preached primarily, or focused on in his preaching, on the Kingdom of God may at first strike us as a little odd, until we recognise that the major story of the Bible starting way back in creation itself, is to a message about the kingdom of God. Even though the language “kingdom of God” rarely if ever occurs in the Old Testament per se, the hope and the expectation and the vision that God is a ruling king, a good ruling king, from creation on, is clearly a major theme. And, in fact, in the prophets, becomes the major hope for a day coming when God will restore his reign through a Davidic Messiah, a Christ, an Anointed One.
So when we get to the Gospels we really should not be surprised that what Jesus is announcing and proclaiming is the kingdom of God. It’s there. It’s because it’s a part of the whole message of the Bible, and it’s in fact when you look beyond the Gospels into the Epistles, it’s, in fact, what they are building upon and presupposing and teaching as well. So, we can see at the centre point of history itself, in the centre of the Bible, the Gospels which witness to Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, we are not surprised to see that his message is the same message of the whole Bible. God’s reign, God’s kingdom is coming from heaven to earth, from creation to new creation.
As we look back at Jesus’ message, it’s worth looking at his central proclamation that the kingdom of God is at hand. That’s the first thing that Jesus said. And so, when we’re asking, what was Jesus really on about, we must look there. It seems to me that that phrase, “the kingdom of God is at hand,” gives us a great clue. Jesus is claiming that with his arrival, God is now the coming King. So the first thing he’s saying is, God is ruler, you need to bow to him, and you need to recognise his rule in your life, and you need to recognise his rule, through me, Jesus. But more than that, when we recognise that the kingdom of God was something, which in Old Testament hope they were longing for God to bring in, we realise that Jesus is also saying, “I am the fulfilment of the Old Testament story.”
So a very important part of Jesus’ teaching is, “I am the fulfilment, I am the expected answer to the problems that were there before.” And when we look back to find out what was that Old Testament story all about, well, some of their hopes were, yes, that God would bring a king, but they were also expecting God to redeem his people, so Jesus is saying, I’m the one who’s now going to redeem God’s people. When you think that in ancient Egypt the Israelites were rescued from Egypt and redeemed, what Jesus offering us is redemption, not from slavery in Egypt, but from what? Well, slavery to sin.
When you look back into the Old Testament, you discover also a longing that God will fulfil his covenant, and this covenant is God’s plan to bless the entire world through Abraham’s descendants. And so, when Jesus comes and says, “I am the fulfilment of that,” then we’re getting the message that God is going to do through Jesus that which is going to overcome evil and is also going to bring all people everywhere into his kingdom. So that’s the central thing that Jesus is claiming. He is the fulfilment of the Old Testament.